Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reflections After a Green Burial

I didn't mention in the last post some sad news. It was just so upbeat, and cancer is such a downer, I wanted to have a happy post. But it is important to acknowledge the crappy side of life, too. On Saturday morning my Dad's wife, Anne, passed away after 12 years surviving breast cancer. She and I chose diametrically opposed treatment strategies, but I think we both learned from each other--watching quietly, in our own ways. I know I learned from her, anyway.

I often feel at the mercy and whim of my doctors. Feeling out of control of my own life is possibly the hardest part of this mess for me. But Anne never let that happen. She made her own decisions, in her own time, and on her own terms. More importantly, she lived on her own terms. Right up until the end. Taking her daily walk, pushing past the pain long after I would have given in to the limits of my body. Emailing each day, long after she no longer felt up for visitors, even something as simple as climbing the stairs to use the real bathroom instead of the portable toilet they had toward the end in the living room next to her hospital bed. She did as much as she could for as long as she could, but she didn't get angry when she had to finally give up her pleasures and her routines. One-by-one she had to give up her spirit-sustaining activities, and every time she did so graciously. I can only hope to go out with such dignity and grace.

Anne's patience with herself, and this disease, and with life; her ability to face the best and the worst of living and do so on her own terms, no matter what anyone else thought, were qualities I marveled at. As I fight my own battle and live my own life in spite of this disease, I will often remember her strength and resolve and try to draw from it. There are many days when juggling doctors--their opinions, assumptions, arrogance, and even their genuine sympathy--against my own plans and dreams and needs, seems next to impossible. There are still more days when balancing disease and treatments and side-effects with life and fun and work seems not only an impossible, but a miserable task. But at my moments of greatest frustration, I will remember Anne and her stubborn ability to slow down, and will the rest of the world to slow down with her, and in the breath that remained build a life and a community that suited her, and her alone. I will remember her and I will draw from that strength; and I will plow forward with the life I choose for myself.

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